The automobile is a self-propelled passenger vehicle that has four to eight tires and is powered by an internal combustion engine or electric motor. It is a central part of many people’s lives and is the basis for many different industries and technologies. The branches of engineering that deal with the manufacture and technology of automobiles are called automotive engineering.
Various definitions have popped up over time for what constitutes an automobile, but most agree that it is a wheeled motor vehicle that seats one to eight people and is used primarily for transportation. Most cars are powered by gasoline, which is burned inside the car to produce energy to drive the wheels. Most have brakes that can stop the car quickly in emergencies, as well as a trunk that can store cargo. Some modern automobiles have regenerative brakes, which turn the energy from braking back into electricity to recharge the battery.
Automobiles have revolutionized the United States, allowing people to travel for work and play. They have allowed families to move from rural to urban areas, and they have given rise to suburbs, interstate highways, and drive-in movies. Many families cannot even imagine life without a car. The automobile also has changed society by bringing in new jobs and industries that depend on the automobile. Companies that make and repair automobiles, as well as retail businesses that sell parts and fuel, have sprung up.
The automotive industry is huge in the United States and all over the world. There are currently about 70 million cars on the road worldwide, and about one-quarter of them are in the United States. The majority of these are passenger cars, which are primarily used for transportation by individuals. There are a few exceptions, such as taxis and delivery vehicles that use automobiles for the purpose of hauling cargo.
Automakers are continuing to innovate. For example, electric cars are gaining popularity, and hybrids combine an internal combustion engine with an electric motor for better efficiency. In addition, some automobiles are designed to be powered solely by electricity when parked.
While the scientific and technical building blocks of the automobile go back several hundred years – Leonardo da Vinci created designs and models for transport vehicles in the 15th century – modern automobiles were first perfected in Germany and France in the late 1800s. Karl Benz is generally credited with creating the first true automobile, and other inventors and engineers followed with their own designs.
The automobile has brought about changes for the economy and society of America, but it is no longer the dominant force it once was. As new forces chart a future of the American Age of Electronics, Americans are reassessing their relationship with the automobile and are searching for ways to reduce the amount they rely on it. Some are looking to ride-sharing programs and other alternatives, while others are trying to find ways to live without having a car altogether.